I can't remember exactly how old — how young, really — I was, but it definitely wasn't old enough to be laughing my ass off at a story about Richard Pryor's dad dying of a heart attack while having sex with an 18-year-old girl. I have my own dad to thank for not only allowing me access to such hilarious, age-inappropriate, smart, biting, insightful stuff, but actually encouraging me to listen to it. He'd run errands and I'd sit in the car and rewind the bits pre-teen me thought were hilarious — Chinese people fuck fast, Pryor's pet monkey, etc. — and unknowingly soak in the social commentary. The subjects may have been adult-oriented, but Pryor — who died Dec. 10 at 65 years and 9 days old — wasn't particularly "dirty." The jokes were rarely easy, either: Pryor just told stories about his life, leaving nothing out. He effortlessly squeezed comedy out of everything from his neighbor's dog ("You know I'm gonna chase you again tomorrow") to his own heart attack ("You should've thought of that when you were eating all that pork!" says God.)

The tenderness and intelligence never really worked when shoehorned into movies, unfortunately. Noel's going to round up some of Pryor's finest onscreen moments next week, but none match the unbridled brilliance of watching Richard Pryor alone with a microphone. Even the finest moments of weightless movies like The Toy and Stir Crazy don't hint at what Pryor could accomplish without the constraints of plot or directors. The best place to start getting acquainted, if you're not already, is Richard Pryor: Live In Concert, an 80-minute film that captures him both vulnerable and monumentally powerful. After that, head to And It's Deep, Too, a nine-CD set that follows Pryor's arc from pre-"blue" days to socially conscious star to his post-height-of-fame battle with MS — which he managed to wring a laugh or two from.

This will be said a million times this week, but it's true: Richard Pryor was a watershed comedian, without whom a hundred other greats wouldn't have formed, at least not in the same fearless way.